University of Maryland: Frequent Listening- A Strengthened WMUC Expands Its Reach

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From his room in Washington Hall, Tim Mengers tried nobly to find his hyperlocal radio station: UMD’s own WMUC.

“Tune your radio to 88.1 FM. Listen closely to the local music scene. What do you hear? Nothing?!? Exactly!” Mengers, then a senior, wrote in a 1997 guest column for The Diamondback. “I grabbed my antennae … and contorted my body until I got a signal out of the speakers. Gymkana should use this as a warmup exercise. My roommate thought it was hilarious.”

From its start nearly 75 years ago until very recently, WMUC emitted a feeble signal that barely extended to the perimeters of campus. But now the station is enjoying an expanded listening radius, thanks to an upgraded antenna, a bump from 10 watts to 30 watts of broadcasting power and a new frequency: 90.5 FM.

“What we’re hoping for (with the new frequency) is just more relevancy and prominence within the DMV area,” said Aidan Appelson ’24, WMUC’s general manager. “We’re able to reach more places.”

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students looks at records
On Oct. 11, 1948, WMUC went on the air for the first time. Just three days later, station engineers decided to stop broadcasting due to poor transmission. In 1949, the station tried again from Silvester Hall (now Baltimore Hall), and over the years it aired out of a renovated shower room in Calvert Hall and the old journalism building before settling into its current home, on the top floor of the South Campus Dining Hall, in 1974.

Throughout, Terps listening in experienced the sounds of silence and static described by Mengers. With its new frequency, music lovers as far away as Hyattsville and Silver Spring can hear the tunes from independent and emerging artists coming out of WMUC’s cozy quarters.

The new frequency has been in the works since at least 2018, and has likely been in discussion since the 1990s. Around 2006, WYPR, the Baltimore NPR affiliate, moved to the 88.1 FM frequency, causing static for both stations. After working with a radio engineering consultant and negotiating with nearby stations, the WMUC team settled on 90.5 FM for a new home, then applied for a change with the FCC and began working on upgrading its antennae. Support for the new equipment came from WMUC alums and other friends.

“It’s been a shared effort over time, and it’s the culmination of the labor of many people to get to this place,” said Joe Calizo, assistant director of student activities in the Adele H. Stamp Student Union and WMUC’s staff adviser. “It’s a very technical issue, but there were so many aspects that needed to be addressed that we needed this wide team effort to actualize the change.”

For Appelson, the new frequency represents a new era for WMUC. “It really feels like we’re finally … getting back to where we once were and hopefully even exceeding where we were before COVID.”

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